What happens ‘when push comes to shove’ on the budget (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There’s a phrase that most people have heard or used: “when push comes to shove.” Generally, this means there’s a standoff, and the question is, “what’s going to happen when push comes to shove?” Well, in the special session, push has come to shove. Both the Republican majority and the Democratic minority say they want to raise revenue for state operations — at least enough to avoid further budget cuts during the current fiscal year ending next June. But the time is quickly coming when the agencies most affected, the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will be running out of money unless they make the cuts.

The argument is pretty much where it left off last May. Here’s the “push”: Republicans want an increase in the cigarette tax of $1.50 per pack and perhaps a gasoline tax increase as the bedrock of their revenue-raising plan. But even with a 2/3rd-plus margin in the House, they cannot pass these tax increases without Democratic votes. Too many Republican legislators will vote “no” on their own party’s position.

So, here’s the “shove”: Democrats say they don’t like the cigarette and gasoline tax increases, but they will support them if the Republicans will agree to more tax fairness by also raising the gross production tax, which is unconscionably low, and the state income tax on higher earners. Under the current state income tax, a person with a taxable income of $500,000 per year pays the same rate as a person earning $9,000 per year.

There are majorities in both the Democratic and Republican membership for passage of all the increases mentioned and who agree the revenue is needed. But Republican orthodoxy carries with it principled opposition to any tax increases, especially on high-income earners and the oil industry. Democrats have principled opposition to tax proposals that hit consumers especially hard but don’t touch folks that have the tax breaks.

So, here’s what happens in the real world of politics when push comes to shove. The party in charge — especially when they have huge majorities — in this case the Republicans, is responsible for getting the job done. In a crisis like the one we are facing there really are no excuses. If they don’t find revenue, the people of the state will suffer. That means they either need to identify revenue they can pass without Democratic votes, which the recent Supreme Court decision made easier for them, or they need to change the dynamics by making a new proposal that will pick up sufficient Democratic votes. It’s not a lot of fun being in charge when push comes to shove, but those who have power wanted it and they got it. Now is the time to use it.

Learn More // Do More


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.